Unhappy crowd attends Murray County Medical Center community meetingPublished by on
SLAYTON – A passionate crowd filled the Murray Country Central auditorium Tuesday night to attend the Murray County Medical Center (MCMC) community meeting, moderated by Dr. Michael Rich of the Southwest Marketing Advisory Center (SMAC) of Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. At the heart of the matter is how the community can resolve problems at the medical center, which has suffered from a loss of medical and support staff due to what they have termed a hostile working environment.
With the loss of several medical staff has come a loss of patients as they follow trusted medical providers to their new positions at other facilities.
Early in the meeting, Rich asked that the participants use basic decorum, and admitted from the start there probably would not be answers for all of the questions from the community. He said questions without answers would be researched by his team, and asked several people throughout the evening to document parts of their statements and email him the information. With that, the SMAC will create a timeline and plans to create focus groups in order to construct questionnaires for the community.
Murray County Commissioners and Hospital Board members attended the meeting and addressed some questions, but their answers were frequently greeted with rumblings from the crowd. Responses of “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” garnered jeers and angry mutters, prompting Rich more than once to remind the community members to keep things civil.
Cal Wurpts, a former mayor of Slayton, asked the commissioners if they were willing to discontinue the medical center’s management agreement with Sanford and bring in Avera, stating it was the only way to get the four medical personnel back to MCMC. Rich told Wurpts and the audience Avera would not be willing to “step into the breach” with the current level of contention.
“I sit on the Avera board, and they are not going to come in here and pick up the spoils of war,” he added.
Rich said some members of the community who didn’t necessarily support the group of concerned citizens were basically being shunned and avoided because they didn’t subscribe to the same point of view. More than one presentation for the meeting had been gathered, he said, but people were afraid to present the material based on the pressure they would feel from the crowd.
Stacy Slettum, a nurse practitioner who left MCMC, told Rich there was a definite hostile environment created from pressure on the inside. Slettum has been outspoken about the issue since leaving the medical center, and told Rich he could not judge the citizens and offer that opinion.
“It’s not your job,” she stated.
Slettum questioned financial officer Renee Logan about medical services provided in 2011 and 2012 that were not billed out due to lack of dictation. Logan responded she could not discuss personnel issues, but said the net amount not billed was likely about $40,000 a year.
Duane Carlson, a former county commissioner, said that 26 people had resigned from the medical center in the last year, and asked if exit interviews had been performed by the hospital board.
“We as a board do not do exit interviews,” Commissioner Bob Moline answered. “That would be an HR job. Whether they do them, I don’t know.”
Jeff Like of Slayton asked a question many citizens were wondering – how the board justified the compensation package given to Mel Snow, who had recently resigned from his position as CEO. The package consists of a lump sum of $380,000 minus taxes, $27,550 for retirement loss, an amount not to exceed $4,000 for attorney fees and premium payments for up to two years for medical, dental and life insurance benefits.
Like asked each commissioner to respond to the question individually.
Commissioner Gerald Magnus, who had voted earlier Tuesday against ratifying the separation agreement because he felt the package cost was too high, said he did not like the agreement, but supported his board. Commissioner James Jens said he felt it was best for the hospital, as did Moline.
“We heard from the community we needed a change in leadership,” Moline said.
Commissioner Dave Thiner’s response was greeted with anger from the crowd. He stated he was thrown into being on the hospital board and totally unaware of what was going on.
“(Snow) resigned because of the pressure, which put him in the hospital. He said it was one way to get over the hump, so he left,” Thiner said. “I wanted him to hang around and prove he was right. I didn’t want another lawsuit.”
Thiner said he didn’t agree with the terms, but felt it was best for the community.
Speaking of Slettum and another Nurse Practitioner who are rumored to be moving their practices to Fulda, Thiner said, “I hope the two providers come to Fulda. It would be best for Fulda.”
Kent Johansen also asked the commissioners to respond individually to his question – why, with a federal lawsuit pending against him and the hospital, and the general unhappiness of the community, had the board extended Snow’s contract for another seven years just a few months ago. He acknowledged to Thiner that the job of county commissioner might be a thankless one at times, but reminded him it was one Thiner himself had run for.
Thiner responded that when he ran for the position, he was looking out for Bondin Township and was unaware at first he was even on the hospital board.
Moline said he voted in favor of Snow’s extended contract.
“I looked at Snow and his age, that he wanted to get to retirement,” Moline started before being interrupted by an angry response from the crowd.
“Do you want me to talk or not?” he asked.
“No!” the crowd responded.
They were promptly reminded by Rich that the tone of the meeting was degenerating and asked if they wanted to continue watching their hospital disintegrate.
“This meeting started out cordial and has gone downhill. Do you people want to carry on a civilized conversation in a civilized manner or not?” Rich asked. “You've lost physician assistants and nurses, but you have an excellent base of doctors - but doctors won't put up with community upheaval, and there is an acute physician shortage in this country. You can boo me if you like, but if we can't move forward, you won't have a hospital in two years.”
Commissioner John Giese admitted to the crowd that he had been in Sioux Falls, SD taking a radiation treatment for lung cancer, which is why he had voted for the extension by proxy.
RN Donna Thompson came forward to say she loved her job at the hospital, and implored the audience not to desert the facility.
“We need you as patients or we won’t have anything,” she stated.
According to Moline, the hospital board will meet in open session at 10 a.m. Wednesday to talk with a potential interim CEO at the Murray County Government Center.
Anyone interested in contacting Rich at the SMAC with questions or facts for the timeline can send an email to Michael.Rich@SMSU.edu.